This strong, independent actress is wisely choosing her groundbreaking roles. From Lina to Dija to Sophia, Injy el-Mokkadem talks about her character transformations and how she carries a little of each of the women inside her.
The beautiful clothes. The refined conversations. The backdrops, location and even the props. Everthing about Layali Eugenie (Eugenie Nights) had viewers talking; whether it was about the dramatic storylines, gorgeous costumes or the little details the period drama managed to effortlessly pull off. The much-loved protagonists impressed as the star-crossed lovers, but when it came to surprise performances, the biggest name on everyone’s lips was Sophia, the powerful comeback role turned in by Ingy el-Mokkadem.
Mokkadem stopped by for a chat at Egypt Today’s offices to talk about the challenging role, her career choices so far and the characters she enjoyed bringing to life.
1-Sophia was everyone’s favorite character in Layali Eugenie. Were you surprised at the success?
I expected the series to succeed because the entire cast exerted a lot of effort, and it is directed by Hany Khalifa. All the actors and the actresses are popular and have huge fan bases and the series’ era is loved by most—people usually have a certain kind of nostalgia toward Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s, the quiet, peaceful and elegant Egypt, but I didn’t expect at all the huge success of Sophia’s character specifically. It exceeded all my expectations and scared me.
2-Why do you say it scared you?
Because I want to keep up that success. I am afraid my next step after Sophia will not achieve the same success, I am scared also about making a bad choice in the future. I’m asking myself now, ‘What is the next step after Sophia?’
3-You’ve made decisive career choices before though. You left the successful multi-part series HebaRegl el Ghorab after the first two seasons and joined seaons 2 and 3 of another successful multi-part series; Hekayat Banat (Girls’ Tales). Can you tell us a little more about this decision?
I left Heba Regl el Ghorab because I was very tired after working in the first two parts (each part is 45 episodes) and I found myself unable to work on another two parts, or in other words another 90 episodes. I quit, despite the fact that Lina [her character in the series] was a guest of honor in the first two parts but in the third and fourth seasons, her role was going to be more influential. I joined Hekayat Banat for many reasons. I was a fan of the first season; I loved its girly mood and the friends’ bonds with each others. I loved their stories, their gossip and their day-to-day lives. When they asked me to join seasons 2 and 3, I was scared because audiences were attached to the first cast and viewers always favor the actor/actress who play the roles first. I joined because Dija [Khadija] was a new character and I was not replacing any of the other two other girls who left the show. Dija’s character really attracted me; I fell in love with her as soon as I read the script.
4-You’ve changed careers more than once. What eventually led you to acting?
I worked as an account executive in the advertising field directly after graduation, then as a graphic designer, then I returned to being an account executive in multinational company. At that time I saw an ad for reporters to work for Orbit in El Kahera El Youm program, I applied and was accepted. What attracted me to go for this opportunity is my strong desire to work in front of a camera. My husband, with whom I’ve been with since we were at university together, told me I could only act on the university stage (I studied theater) and that after graduation I should forget all about acting. Because I loved him I decided to sacrifice acting to please him, but such a strong passion remained inside me. Back then I told myself that being a reporter would at least enable me to work in front of the camera. The next step I became a TV host and I had my own program. I finally managed to convince my husband to let me act; I used all my persuasion skills to change his mind from being totally opposed to completely supportive (laughs). I admit my first acting experiences weren’t good because I was an ex-TV host and that made me aware of the camera. As an actor you have to forget all about the camera when you perform.
5-Lina, Dija and Sophia are all strong, independent and supportive women. Are you like them?
To some extent yes, but frankly speaking I am not that strong. They are warm, giving and know well what they want, they aren’t shy to express their emotions. People loved Dija because she is not fake; she is real, what you see is what you get.
6-Which role is the closest to your heart? Which one do you consider a turning point in your career?
Now of course Sophia is my favorite but I used to love Dija as well. I usually enjoy the current moment, now I am totally with Sophia. Who knows what will happen in the future, maybe if I play another role like Sophia, or even more successful, I’d consider it a milestone in my career.
7-Some of Sophia’s most memorable scenes were when she was worrying over her missing son. How did you pull off the difficult performances?
All the credit for my performance of Sophia’s character goes to the scriptwriters and the brilliant director Hany Khalifa. He reads the capabilities of all the actors working with him, he knows when the actor’s performance truly comes from the heart and whether the actor feels what he is doing and he is are not. He understands the actor to an extent that scared me; I used to tell him all the time, ‘you read me as if I am an open book.’
Khalifa also owns a special energy that he usually transfers to each actor before shooting his scene. He whispers inside the ears of each actor to prepare them, to put them in the mood of the scene. He pays attention to every single detail. During editing he is extremely keen to capture what we could describe as the best take. For that painful scene where Sophia is thinking about her son, first I performed it from different takes, none of them satisfied Khalifa. He made me exert a lot of effort because he is a perfectionist, so it is very difficult to please him. He kept asking me to repeat the scenes again saying that I can do better, until he extracted from me a performance that I didn’t know I could give. He understands his actors and their capabilities even more than they understand themselves. He told me to imagine it really was my real son. It was very painful, the result was that I did a perfect scene but I cried a lot after I finished. I told Khalifa: ‘you are so cruel, you destroyed me in two minutes!’
8-How did you prepare for Sophia?
I loved Sophia, who is a joyful character spreading positive energy despite the unbearable pain she feels because of her son. I truly felt everything Sophia would – her character, her words and her world; I simply was Sophia. And because I felt Sophia’s feelings in every scene, my eyes expressed that. I prepared well for her with the director, scriptwriters and the rest of the cast, running through a number of rehearsals before we started shooting. We discussed all the details of Sophia’s character: how she talks, walks, her style and everything about her. Khalifa gave me a list of classic Italian movies to watch and learn how Italian ladies of the era look and act.
I also read a lot about how foreigners who live in another country behave, they are different because they always want to feel that they are accepted and welcomed in this country, they don’t want anybody to make them feel that they are outsiders. These expats feel that they are neither complete Italians nor complete Egyptians. They have certain common traits; they are emotional and have a great sense of humor, so I added these traits to Sophia’s character. I worked on the tiny details of Sophia’s character; she’s always cooking and serving food to people so she might sometimes feel pain in her back, which is why she stands in a certain way with her hand on her back, and other details.
I learned the basics of the Italian language to pull off the conversations in my scenes, to at least understand what I was saying, to know the proper pronunciation and Italian phonetics—the way Italians talk. They use their hands a lot while talking. It was very tough concentrating on both the language and the acting, but thankfully it went well.
9-You studied psychology. To what extent has that helped you in your acting career?
It helped me a lot in understanding the nature of the character I am playing, the character’s reactions in certain situation, her feelings, emotions and the actions she makes.
10-What is your favourite era in fashion?
In general I like the 1960s era because I feel it is full of rebellion, full of dreams. My mother spoke to me a lot about this era so I fell in love with. It’s also the era most of the world revolutions occurred in, it contained noble dreams of freedom full of rebellion against fashion and old lifestyles. The 1960s is also the time of the evolution of certain kinds of music, with Woodstock and the hippie movement.
11-Are you a good chef like Sophia?
Yes, I am a good cook, but I am really bad at making desserts, so that’s not like Sophia. The only dessert I make is Twix tart (see box for her recipe).
12-How do you balance between the crazy hours and the kids?
My family and my husband totally support me and I am lucky that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law live in the house directly opposite me, so they help me a lot. My mother in law is so proud of me because of Sophia. Wherever she goes people tell her how much they love Sophia, so she feels that the time she spent taking care of my kids has been put to good use (laughs).
13-How do you choose your roles?
This may sound philosophical but what I try to do through my work is not to be just a role model actress, I want to achieve success in my career and develop myself with my own character and my own convictions, not be pushed to change my personality and do certain things, even if they are right, in order to reach my goal or to achieve success. I want to leave an honorable and respectable repertoire for my kids, husband, family and my fans who view me as their role model. I want to make it my way, and I choose my roles based on this principle. I want to succeed by working hard and putting in the effort. In general, I choose my roles based on the director, the script and the nature of the character. My characters should be different, in other words if I did the role of an oppressed lady in one series, in the following role I should do a strong one. I develop my performance by taking courses and workshops so I am always updated with the latest acting techniques.
14-How do you manage to get rid of the effect each character leaves on you?
I usually don’t get influenced by the role but sometimes if I am performing a tragic role I am affected to some extent, I am not living the character as some actors, do but the tragic mood of the character turns mine into a sad one too.
15-Do you miss certain characters after you finish shooting?
Yes, like Dija because she was fluffy, elegant and lovely. And of course Sophia, I miss both of them.
16-Who is your favorite international actor/actress?
The one and only Meryl Streep.